A Challenge to the Occupy "Movement"

Posted November 3, 2011

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll likely have seen me write a few notes that are generally disapproving of the Occupy "movement." Those notes are invariably interpreted by my progressive friends as signs that I have slipped into the shadowy world of conservativism. Of course, my conservative friends see these same messages, and welcome me as an enlightened individual who has finally seen the light of reason.

The truth is bound to disappoint both groups. At the risk of alienation from my politically outspoken friends, I would like to set the record straight.

I see people who feel they have been shit on by a system that does not represent or value their interests. I see people who were squarely screwed over by gamblers who knowingly gamed the market to failure. I see people who are proud of a lifetime of work, and are angered by a government that props up the companies that are taking away their homes, their jobs, and their savings. I see people who have literally fought for the ideals of freedom on behalf of their country, only to be shot with rubber bullets when they raise their voices in their own cities.

These are legitimate concerns. There have been inarguable abuses of power. People have clearly been wronged. It is the duty of a just government to address and redress legitimate grievances, just it is the duty of civically minded people to stand up on the behalf of those who cannot.

That said, when I see "the 99%" take to the streets with slogans and signs and tents, I can't help but think that there's something missing. There's something fundamentally flawed with the Occupy "movement." It doesn't feel right.

I grew up as an ardent advocate of social justice, and to this day I fiercely believe in the core tenets of equality, empowerment, and activism. I helped organize protests against the Aryan Nation during their annual parades in Coeur d'Alene. I volunteered with LGBT organizations up and down the West Coast. I helped friends get off the streets and into shelters and treatment. I've helped build houses and brought meals to people who would otherwise go hungry.

These experiences taught me a clear lesson, that there are two fundamental ingredients required to change the world: focus, and disruption.

The Occupy "movement" has neither.

Every successful popular movement in history has had a rallying cry -- a vision for how things should be. The most obvious examples are our independence from the British Empire, the abolishment of slavery, women's suffrage, civil rights, and the labor movement. These were all inspired by a multitude of injustices, but found their power in a central message, a idea with laser-like focus that clearly expressed how the world should be.

Similarly, all of these movements were propelled by people who had the guts to disrupt the specific establishments that held them back. The pursuit of justice was difficult, dangerous, and clearly connected to the vision. The path to independence as a nation? War and expulsion of the occupying force. Abolishment of slavery? Smuggling people northward, and the destruction of the slave states. Suffrage? Civil rights? Labor? Direct action and boycotting on specific principals, against specific organizations, towards a specific goal.

If you want people with power to change something, you either need to become a person in power, or issue an ultimatum backed by a credible threat to their power.

If you're pissed about corporate influence in government, stop buying from corrupting companies, vote out corrupted politicians, expose the corruption, or run for office.

If you're pissed about globalism, stop buying stuff made overseas, and take your protest to the specific companies that ship jobs away.

If you're pissed about banking practices, take your money to a different bank.

If you're pissed about a law, break it and fight it, or contribute to the defense of someone else.

If you're pissed about homelessness, build some houses or donate to a shelter.

If you're pissed about public parks, pitch a tent in one and squat for a month.

That's what I see in the Occupy "movement" -- a bunch of people who are pissed, but don't know what to do with it. It's easy to wave signs, it's easy to protest something you dislike, and it's easy to sit around and talk about consensus driven activism. I've been there. I know.

Tell me what your vision is. Tell me how Occupying is actively moving our country towards a brighter future. Tell me how your "protests" are making a difference, not just making noise. I believe in the fight against corruption, greed, and poverty ... show me how camping in a park and waving signs is making the world a better place, and helping people live better lives.

Otherwise, consider doing something that actually makes a difference: donate your time to soup kitchens and shelters. It's getting cold out there, and there are families that desperately need food and a safe place to sleep.

I bet 99% of you won't do a damn thing, and I'll put money on it -- up to $500 in matching donations to Outside In, a shelter for homeless kids here in Portland. Show me your donation, no matter how small, and I'll match it.

Update - It's been about 12 hours, and we've raised $640 (including matching donations) for Outside In. Thank you. Coincidentally, Occupy Portland also announced plans for Bank Transfer Day. Money talks. Lets see who walks.

Update - Almost at $1000 for Outside In, including matching. Thank you!

Update - We passed the $1000 for Outside In, thanks to everyone!

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